This visible solidarity of women must count for more than validating shared experience
‘We’ve formed a massive, roaring sisterhood of scar tissue, and we are all in that room with Christine Blasey Ford.’ Photograph: Melina Mara/AFP/Getty Images
The hearing is over. Christine Blasey Ford has shared her truth and gone. The Republican Senators have ignored her testimony and Brett Kavanaugh is closer to claiming a lifelong seat on America’s supreme court.
I am sixteen-and-a-half thousand kilometres away from the rooms in which these events have transpired, yet late at night and in moments of quietude, I am in all of them – rendered something supernatural and out of space and time by a rage that’s as hot and thick as lava. And I’m not alone.
We are, each one, the testimonies that are detailed, excruciating and unashamed
Watch the ongoing Kavanaugh news roll over Twitter, you’ll see just how much outrage from women worldwide is rolling, too. Since #metoo and #whyididntreport, the private horror of sexual violence has been released so publicly and by so many that the weight of its collective force has finally – finally – inverted the power of shame. Only the isolated survivor can still be persuaded to blame themselves – and, thanks to the internet, not too many of us feel so isolated anymore. Righteously, anger has turned outwards.
The assaulted. The trapped. The humiliated. The intimidated. The disbelieved. We’ve formed a massive, roaring sisterhood of scar tissue, and we are all in that room with Ford, rising like mutant anime giant, made of blood and bits of flesh and fury. All of us are the enraged sexual assault survivors confronting the vacillating, cowardly Jeff Flake in an elevator door. All of us are the marches in the streets, the placards, the floods of phone calls. We are, each one, the testimonies that are detailed, excruciating and unashamed.
And yet the Republicans have not demurred, Kavanaugh yet advances towards the supreme court. The patriarchal moment has asserted itself with its most powerful gesture of corrective instruction; power as we know it is unaffected by the concerns of Ford, women, their bodies or the truth.
We can tell ourselves that those in the rarified echelons of western privilege are fighting for institutional control like cornered rats because they sense their claim on authority has been diminished. Successive waves of successful social justice movements, the realised progress of social liberalism and the reality of demographic change all challenge the old entitlement.
But outnumbered is not outresourced. Just one rat with the power to make abortion illegal is a danger to millions. And if there’s a rat in the White House, parliaments of rats, rats with media empires and corporate profits spending billions of dollars to get their own way, the rats will keep winning.
We owe it to Christine Blasey Ford to infiltrate the most powerful of the professions and change them
If the new, visible solidarity of women counts for anything it must be for more than validating shared experience or choral performances of provoked emotion. Trump and the circus around Kavanaugh have exposed as fantasy the idea that power bends at all to moral appeal. These dudes achieve power through instrumentalising the people and systems around them. Rule by personal whim, without moral restraint, is Trump’s most cherished prize.
So feminism must mobilise once more as a proactive, self-conscious movement with a plan for structural social and political change that will permanently divorce misogyny from power. Flake’s prevaricating shows that we can’t rely on the supposed champions of traditional authority to stop a Kavanaugh ascending. We must consciously make ourselves into the apparatus of authority – at every social level – who can get in the likes of Kavanaugh’s way.
The German radical Rudi Dutschke once advocated a long march through the institutions as the path to transformative change in the West. He advised the activists of the social justice movement not to drop out of society, but to realise in their own jobs their potential as powerful sites of service to the collective goal. Bringing political consciousness to a job changes the nature of how it’s done, what it is and the influence it exerts over others. Dutschke realised that a critical mass of people doing so within the institutions of what most powerfully define a society – the academies, the law, public service, politics, media, the arts, business – will, actually, radically change that society, too.
Liberal feminism has taught women to pursue the workplace as a place for personal empowerment through the achievement of greater individual wealth or status.
But what #metoo, #whyididntreport and Kavanaugh have shown is that wealth and individual status are no protection for women against misogyny when it comes shielded with structural advantage, while women without wealth and status are made even more vulnerable.
We can negotiate individual patriarchal bargains and emerge short-changed, or we can remember that women’s liberation can only ever be realised as a collective goal, and march that overt and explicit feminist consciousnesses into institutions of society with agendas, limitless ambitions and an active – unashamed – pursuit of authority. Whether we are working jobs or working within our communities, the recalibration needed to make change is not to think of our work in terms of self-fulfilment, but as a daily opportunity to facilitate justice and fairness for us all.
We owe the activism of collective service to ourselves. We owe it to Ford to infiltrate the most powerful of the professions and change them. We owe it to the women who came before us, and those who face a future deserving of everything more than the cruel rats now in power will offer them.
- Van Badham is a Guardian Australia columnist and vice-president of MEAA Victoria